I still remember the first day of my college econ class: The professor scribbled "TANSTAAFL" on the blackboard. The acronym stood for a basic tenet of macroeconomics: "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch."
This wasn't a reference to the free meal my friends had bought me two weeks back for my birthday, but rather an admission that everything comes with a cost. Those free miles you get with your credit card purchase mean you had to buy something—you had to earn them. They're not really free!
To that end, if you want to lead a balanced life that includes hard training and clean nutrition alongside some cheats, treats, and fun on the weekends, you need to start thinking about earning your right to eat foods that are normally off-limits.
If you train hard, be it in the gym or with some form of cardio, you earn the right to cheat a little. Train harder and you earn an even greater margin of indulgent food choices. Skip your workouts altogether, and you can't redeem anything!
Enter the 5-Day Diet
This is the basic idea of the 5-Day Diet. By working hard five days per week, you earn yourself two free days on the weekend.
This diet is designed for people who are willing to work hard during the week, but don't want to avoid certain foods or events on the weekends. It's for the guy or gal who wants to kick ass five days a week and let loose a little on Saturday night, not sit at home fretting over visible abs.
In short, the 5-Day Diet includes five days of being fairly strict with your training and nutrition followed by two days of letting go, which can easily fit your workday/weekend schedule, and is designed to allow you to enjoy all the social aspects of your life without feeling restricted or deprived.
The key to making it work, however, is that you have to earn those free days. Work hard, play hard.
If that sounds like a program you can see yourself following, let's take a closer look at establishing some parameters that can make it easy to follow.
5 On, 2 Off
The 5-Day Diet can be summed up something like this: "Buy 5 and get 2 free!" That may sound like an offer you'd see in the supermarket, and it's probably a great deal. But, like TANSTAAFL, you still have to commit to five.
For our purposes, the five corresponds to five consecutive days, like your work week. Your aim is to complete all your training days as scheduled and eat smart during those days: clean, healthy, high-protein foods, with an eye toward controlling simple carbs and watching calorie-dense fats.
If you put in five near-perfect days, you'll be rewarded with a weekend-free pass each and every time you reach your goal of five. If you miss your five consecutive days of crushing your training and nutrition plan, then you have to scale back your weekend reward.
Of course, every buy-one-get-one-free kind of offer has rules and stipulations, but these are designed merely to increase your chances of success following a program like this. So here's the fine print that you'll want to consider:
The 5-Day Diet isn't the best plan under the sun for fat loss. If you have a lot of weight to lose and you want to drop it quickly, you may need to follow a tighter plan. However, if you're already in solid shape and you now want to reap the rewards of your hard work, or even if you want to maintain or gain weight, the 5-Diet Diet will work for you.
There's no counting calories, but you should keep an eye on the mirror and your body weight. If you're looking to compete, this isn't the program for you. It is one, however, in which a reasonable trade-off can be made that can improve your quality of life while still achieving bodybuilding and fitness gains.
Hardgainers who have a really tough time adding weight may benefit the most from this approach. Cursed (or blessed) with a high metabolism, such individuals typically find it difficult to eat a clean diet 24/7 and put on weight. For them, more frequent cheat days can actually help them achieve appreciable gains in size and strength.
Give Me 5
Your goal for the first five days should be twofold: Follow a clean, bodybuilding-style diet and kick ass in the gym. Let's be a bit more specific here:
Eat about 25 percent of your daily calories from protein sources, another 25 percent from fats—mainly unsaturated, meaning low in animal fats and trans fats—and the remaining 50 percent from carbohydrates. Slower-digesting complex carbs are much better choices than simple sugars, as they often come with fiber and won't send insulin levels—the hormone most responsible for fat storage—skyrocketing.
Your daily macro totals are your primary goal, whether you eat four, five, or six meals to get there. Eating clean and getting ample protein is sometimes difficult, which is why supplements can be so beneficial. And if you become hungry between meals, a protein shake is easy to make and a far better clean option than most snack foods.
To earn your free weekend you're going to have to forgo processed and refined foods, sugary sweets and desserts, fattening fast foods, and anything else that's off your clean-foods list. I trust you know what those foods are—and I don't like playing the role of your mother.
Whether you prefer bodybuilding, strength training, CrossFit, plyometrics, or other miscellaneous fitness activity, try to get at least 60 minutes of training during each workday. If your training split consists of fewer than five days in the gym, choose another physical activity for the balance of the days.
Whatever your workout, crush it. Push yourself. Demand more out of your body. Work your tail off to earn your body and your fun. Do compound movements, lift heavy, challenge your strength and endurance levels, do two-a-day workouts when you're feeling really motivated, and don't get complacent.
- Unless you're really trying to pack on maximum mass, don't skimp on the cardio. Hit a 20-minute high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session a few times per week. Instead of sitting on the bike or treadmill for a low-intensity stroll, cycle very high- and low-intensity intervals for just 20 minutes. You'll burn more calories and increase your fitness at the same time.
If you can successfully and honestly complete all of the above, you've earned the right to cash in your free-eating weekend. But let's establish a few guidelines here as well to ensure you make the most of it.
M stands for moderation
Sure, I want you to let loose on weekends, but finishing off a case of beer—which I've seen a number of my gym buddies do every weekend—is gonna put you in a deep nutritional hole.
The idea of splurging isn't to undo everything you've achieved during the week, but to selectively enjoy yourself. Whatever foods or beverages you choose to consume, just be smart and do so in moderation.
Do something fit and fun
You can forget about a gym workout on your days off, but that doesn't mean you can't do something fit and fun. Whether it's a hike in the mountains, tennis with your partner, dancing at the club, or a bike ride along the beach or a lake, here's your chance to actually enjoy yourself and not be chained to a piece of cardio equipment.
Your activity should be fun (I trust you can find something to meet that criteria), and at least an hour in duration. If you're having a good time, it won't even feel like exercise.
Start your weekends with a powerful protein meal
Most diet busting comes later in the day when you're away from home, at a sporting event, or enjoying a night out. But that doesn't mean you have to blow every meal on Saturday and Sunday. By starting off with your normal high-protein fare, you'll be ahead of the game right off the bat on weekends.
So skip the chocolate-chip pancakes in favor of an egg-white omelet as an easy insurance policy for all your weekday gains.
If you start your weekend on Friday evening, trade it with Sunday evening
I don't want to be the scrooge who says you have to wait till 12:01 a.m. on Saturday to start enjoying yourself, especially if you have plans on Friday. But seeing how two cheat days can morph ever so quickly into three, you'll have to trade your Sunday evening back.
In other words, if you start partying at 5 p.m. on Friday, you've got to get back to clean living at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Feel Out Your 5
Ultimately, this kind of approach isn't based on science. Instead, it's intended as a framework to help you enjoy aspects of your life without feeling deprived. It works because you implement smart recommendations based on balance and moderation. It's intended to help you realize that you can be fit, look great, and not feel like you're making huge sacrifices when it comes to your nutritional choices.
At the end of the day, you want to look great and feel great about yourself. The 5-Day Diet won't necessarily help you jump on a bodybuilding stage in 12 weeks, but it will help you live fit for life and reap the rewards of your hard work. There's no reason you can't enjoy yourself along your fitness journey!